Nick Clegg managed to propel his party right up the opinion polls after last weeks leaders debate. The thing that I found really interesting from the coverage over the weekend is how determined Gordon Brown and David Cameron were to simply dismiss the threat and continue to say that it is a two horse race.
During Brown’s appearance on the Andrew Marr Show he was determined not to be drawn into a discussion about Clegg’s performance but instead pushed forward Labour policies and saved the most stinging attacks for Tory spending plans.
In a way this could play into Clegg’s hands during future debates as last Thursday he took the approach of standing back and letting Brown and Cameron fight it out whilst making remarks such as “the more they argue with each other, the more they sound exactly the same”. This may be a good one liner and therefore go well in televised debates but it does suggest that Mr Clegg hasn’t actually read either of his opponents manifesto’s. Since the last election Blair has been replaced with Brown which has shifted Labour’s thinking to a more leftist agenda while the financial crisis has given the Tories what they always want – an excuse to cut billions of government spending, therefore I can’t think of a time since Labour has been in power when the two leading parties have sounded more different on policy.
It is also forgetting Clegg’s previous televised debate with Brown and Cameron where he came out with the most vicious and childish sounding insult of the day saying “You failed, it’s over, it’s time to go”.
Lib Dem Policy
The main weapon that both the Tories and Labour are using to dismiss the Lib Dems is along the lines of “the public may of been impressed by his performance in the debates but when they see the Lib Dem’s policies they won’t be as pressed”.
So where does this confidence come from? A quick flick threw their manifesto soon highlights some obvious candidates.
The first of these is the much vaunted spending tables that they include. Their tactic of saying that they are the only party to include a table with the spending in is just political posturing (something Clegg says his “new politics” doesn’t do). Both of the other manifesto’s are full of figures about how much things will cost and where money will be raised, they just didn’t put them in a table (which is just fine by me).
But it isn’t the wording around these tables that concerns me most but rather their content. The most obvious hole is their plan to raise a whopping £4bn on anti-avoidance measures. I’m sure that HMRC have been trying to stop people avoiding paying tax for a long time and if I worked for them I’d consider it a bit of an insult that the Lib Dem’s think a change in their political masters will mean that they can magic a further £4bn out of the population.
I’m also not sure about their other revenue generating streams: wanting to raise capital gains tax (and reduce the threshold); restrict tax rebates on pension payments and have a levy on properties over £2m. As you may have guessed from my previous posts I am definitely on the left of the political spectrum so you would imagine I’d be all up from taxing rich people more and giving everyone else £750 but I’m just not sure that this is the way to achieve it.
The first two policies both discourage investments. One of the reasons that the US and in particular the Californian economy does so well is that it is so easy to raise capital from venture funds. I worry that by raising the capital gains tax by so much that the Lib Dem’s would jeopardize these investments and thus put our growth out of the recession at risk.
Their policy for decreasing the tax rebate on pensions also worries me. As was discussed in Thursday’s debate one of the biggest issues facing my generation will be how do we pay for an increasing ageing population. The government should be doing everything it can to encourage people to invest for their future otherwise our children will have a massive burden to pay for our retirement.
With all of these figures the biggest concern that I have is that they will fall far short of their aim. Rich people pay accountants a lot of money to find ways to reduce their tax bill so there is a very real risk that they will find a way around these rises or simply join Lord Ashcroft wherever it is he goes to enable him to pay for all those lovely Tory posters.
On the flip side it is very easy to calculate how much their tax policy of raising the personal allowance will cost – £16,795,000,000 (they put it in a nice table in their manifesto). The amount they raise from their other tax policies is a lot less certain so if they do fail to raise as much as they hope for then we could be taking a £17bn gamble with the public purse. Is the middle of a recession really the time to take such a massive gamble reforming the tax system?
Strangely it is actually the part of the manifesto that I most agree with that I think will turn most people away from the Lib Dem’s. They would like to relax the law against Asylum Seekers: allowing them to work; not locking up children that haven’t committed a crime and stopping deportation of people to countries where they are likely to be tortured. They would also offer citizenship to any illegal immigrants that have been here for 10 years and can speak English. These all sound like humane and reasonable policies to me but sadly this election seems to have been mired by a racist backlash against non-native Britons.
I find that it is such a shame that our society is so unwelcoming to foreign people, especially considering that many nurses and dentists have filled massive holes in our care system as well as being one of the biggest exports for many poor countries.
The influx of unskilled workers has done a lot to keep our economy growing, the argument that they have stolen all of our jobs doesn’t hold much sway with me. For instance it is now really easy and a lot more affordable to get your car washed by hand, 10 years ago, with the exception of Scout fund-raising events, this just wasn’t a business that existed in our country. The low-skilled immigrants have thus created new jobs in our economy. As outlined in this article the inflow of unskilled workers has kept many business afloat thus providing work for (most native-British) middle managers.